Extended Learning Opportunities are designed to incorporate rigor, relevance, and relationships. Rigorous learning experiences in high school pave the way for students’ successes beyond high school.
Rigor, Relevance, Relationships
In Vermont, each student has the opportunity to participate in a flexible high school education that allows them to learn in a way that makes the most sense to them, while still being rigorous. To be successful in college and careers, students must develop knowledge and skills, have the ability to apply learning to new situations, be capable of solving problems, and have the ability to expand their knowledge and opportunities.
Rigorous learning experiences in high school pave the way for students’ success beyond high school. “A rigorous high school curriculum requires challenging instruction and support for each student to meet high standards. Components of a rigorous high school curriculum include higher expectations for all students.” (NCSL, 2014, p. 1).
Extended Learning Opportunities align with state and national standards, and course indicators to ensure academic content. In some cases, ELOs may go beyond the local curriculum to provide additional academic options, depending on individual student interests. To be successful, students are required to demonstrate critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving according to predetermined rigorous standards. When a student engages in an ELO, they also develop important life skills such as time management, collaboration, effective communication, and technological literacy. All students benefit from rigorous learning opportunities, and ELOs are designed for the full range of learners. ELOs build upon the strengths of their participants who construct personalized strategies to address identifiable weaknesses. Each ELO is an example of student-centered learning and based on student’s individual interests and needs.
Rigor can be defined as creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high level, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008). As with traditional high school courses that are created from high quality standards, Extended Learning Opportunities are also created from these same high quality standards and also offer the benefits of relevance and building relationships.
Relevant learning opportunities link personal experiences to post-secondary plans, and multiple pathways to graduation offer each student a way to personalize their relevant educational journey. “Relevant learning opportunities may include in-depth projects that take place both in the classroom and the workplace and internships or Community Partnerships that provide student with a vision of their future and an understanding of how their school work is linked to what they will do after graduation.” (NCSL, 2014, p. 2).
This personalized learning blends courses and experiences that match the needs and interests of each student. Extended Learning Opportunities capitalize on student motivation and engagement as well as helping to engage reluctant learners. They are designed to address the learning styles, strengths, interests, and needs of each individual student. They are real- world experiences that not only demand rigorous academic achievement, but also build skills that promote students’ personal development in an area of interest. ELOs may give a student an option to explore a career choice in a wide variety of settings. ELOs can be designed for individuals or small groups, and may be a way of gaining academic credit for activities in which a student is already engaged. After formalizing indicators to meet ELO standards and expectations, students pursue learning opportunities that are meaningful to them.
Higher student achievement is more likely when each student is well known by at least one adult. Caring adults can be found in schools, or in the case of Extended Learning Opportunities, they can involve the whole community.
Students receive guidance and support from an ELO Coordinator who helps design the learning experience and monitor its progress. Students are paired with a Cooperating Teacher who may be an expert in the area of study. In many cases, students will also have a Community Mentor whose expertise will provide the real-world connection so important to student achievement. Parents/guardians are included and provide needed support and encouragement. ELOs will end with a presentation of learning where all stakeholders, including administration when possible, join in to celebrate students’ learning and recognize the relationships that have been developed between the student and his/her Community Mentor.
Extended Learning Opportunities are designed to incorporate rigor, relevance, and relationships. They are a powerful addition to traditional schooling and have many benefits.
Community Initiated ELOs
In addition to ELOs initiated by students, families, or school personnel, it is possible for Community Mentors to approach the school when they are able to offer a learning opportunity in the community, perhaps at their business or work-site. The ELO Coordinator will work closely with Community Partners to develop an understanding of the ELO Program and its goals and create an ELO plan that will be offered to students.
It is a goal of the ELO program at Enosburg Falls High School to develop a database of possible Community Mentors over time.
What is a “Good” ELO?
Experience from other schools and states have shown that rigorous ELOs – those that result in the highest levels of academic and personal learning for students – have four general components. These are:
Establishing these four components in the ELO plan from the beginning helps students to focus, gives them four natural ‘goals” to aim for, and helps you to benchmark progress. These components also lend themselves nicely to varying assessment measures, both formative, as growth and learning are occurring, and summative, as the culminating assessment of the learning experience. While these aspects of an ELO provide a positive experience for both Community Mentor and student, it is primarily the responsibility of the ELO Coordinator to monitor student progress in these areas with input from the Community Mentor.
The job market of today looks much different than ten years ago, and we cannot predict what it will look like ten years in the future. Although reading, writing, and arithmetic are still essential to every employee’s fundamental abilities, employers view “soft” skills as even more important to work readiness. ELOs are authentic learning experiences that provide valuable opportunities for students to observe and engage in 21st Century Skills that will help prepare them for the career that awaits them after high school..
Examples of Extended Learning Opportunities (including but not limited to):
- Independent studies
- Private instruction;
- Performing groups;
- Job Shadows and Internships;
- Community Service;
- Apprenticeships (Work-based Mentoring)
- Blended Online Courses
- TA work
Independent Studies, Private Instruction, and Performing Groups – these are all designed based on a student’s interests, passions, and needs and are customized for each student. They may include working with a Community Mentor with specialized knowledge, such as a business executive who has an undergraduate degree in philosophy, and would enjoy mentoring a student through an independent learning experience. Private instruction, for example dance or music lessons, and being a part of a performing group, can also become ELOs, and students can demonstrate proficiency. In this way, local businesses, such as dance studios, become partners in a student’s education.
Job Shadows – short-term experiences (up to 20 hours) to introduce a student to a particular job by a one-on-one pairing of a student with an employee in a work environment. The student follows or “shadows” the worker for a specified time to better understand the requirements of a particular career.
Internships – one-on-one relationships that provide “hands-on” learning in an area of student interest. A learning contract outlines the expectations of and responsibilities of both parties. The student works a regular schedule during or after school, on weekends, or during school breaks and during that time the mentor offers his/her time teaching and demonstrating. The internship generally lasts no longer than 180 hours and typically does not include financial compensation.
Community Service – activities are structured experiences for one or more students at a worksite or community agency. Students work on specific activities each week during or after school, on weekends, or during school breaks. Under close adult supervision, students develop work skills and learn how to conduct themselves in work situations. Service learning activities should model guidelines developed by the National and Community Service Trust Act (NACSTA) covering the four stages of preparation, action, reflection, and celebration. http://www.nationalservice.gov/
Apprenticeships (Work-Based Mentoring) – This experience engages a student with an employee of a particular employer who possesses workplace skills and knowledge to be mastered by the student. The mentor instructs the student, critiques the performance of the student, challenges the student to perform well, and works in consultation with classroom teachers and the employer of the student. The relationship generally lasts a year.
Blended Online Courses – In some cases, ELOs cannot provide a learning experience that meets all of a given course’s standards. In this case, a hybrid ELO may be developed that blends community-based learning with online components.